The birthday of a writer and a magazine
On September 25, 1881, a baby boy called Zhou Shuren was born into a Confucian household in Shaoxing, a postcard-perfect town south of Shanghai known for its canals and its rice wine. His father was a scholar and his grandfather was an official in the dynastial government in Beijing. It was a large house, with wooden furniture, a fish pond and no shortage of classic books and calligraphy scrolls. But his father was ill and the family fell on hard times, compounded when grandfather was imprisoned for allegedly taking bribes. In the early years of the twentieth century Zhou Shuren studied medicine in Japan on a Qing government scholarship, but decided that he wanted to heal China instead. He started to write essays and stories, fiery and critical, and took a pen name: Lu Xun.
Lu Xun’s reputation is now assured as one of the most influential writers of modern China. His pen was given new purpose when the Qing dynasty fell in 1911 and the Republic of China struggled to find its feet, and he joined a collective of intellectuals in the New Culture Movement who together forged a new path for the nation. From the surreal short story ‘Diary of a Madman’ to ‘The True Story of Ah Q’, his tales have the stuff of myth. But if Lu Xun’s mission was anything, it was to present China to his readers in a new light: not one of unquestioned tradition, cliché and received opinion, but of a country that was changing and complicated, with the potential to be so much better than it was. Nor did he prescribe his own solutions, but rather wanted to provoke thought and pose questions.
It is in the spirit of Lu Xun that, on the anniversary of his birthday, we are launching a new digest for anyone interested in China, the Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel, a “magazine within a magazine” thanks to a seed grant from the Henry Luce Foundation and further support from the UCI Long US-China Institute, under the same umbrella as LARB’s other independent channels. Though our writers do not pretend to speak for China, we do hope to carry forward the inquisitive and searching spirit that Lu Xun epitomizes, shedding new light on topics and facets of greater China that deserve a closer look. Lu Xun was not just a political writer but a cultural maven and social analyst. Our remit will be just as wide, publishing voices on China that nuance and deepen our understanding.
This is a soft launch of sorts, kicking off with a week themed around Lu Xun, who is depicted in the woodblock image in our header (the image will change each week). We begin with a review of a new collection of his essays in translation, and will end with one of those essay excerpts for discussion. As we build momentum, we will tap into an eclectic range of topics, from the essential to the quirky and left-field, present and past, as well as tapping into a deep well of China writers and websites – channeling their talent here, as our name suggests. We’re excited to add our voice to the conversation, and we hope you are too. Lu Xun wrote, “Nothing will distract me from my path.” As we walk ours, we invite you to follow us, tell your friends, and read on.
Ink is spilt over China every day. There is a myriad of sites, papers and columns out there that unpack this country as it transforms both itself and the world around it. But we feel that there is too much focus at the center – trending news, politics, policy – that ignores the white space around the edges of China coverage. At the China Channel, we hope to fill that white space – slowly painting a more complete picture of China that brings to life Chinese culture, society and history in all its addictive complexity.
As befits our literary remit, we will be bringing you plenty of reviews, of books both about and from China, as well as short “staff picks” of books from the archive that deserve a second look. A separate Book Club feature, every month, will publish a Chinese story and invite readers to write in with questions and comments that we compile and respond to. We value translation as a window into a different world, and a weekly column will also pick apart aspects of Chinese language that shed light on its culture.
While arts and books is a core interest, our vision also extends far beyond that. Original essays will delve into lesser-explored corners of Chinese society and culture, from graffiti artists in modern Beijing to the Orientalist ballet that torpedoed Sino-Soviet relations. We’re looking at China’s politics and economics, but also its comic books, crossdressers and philosophy, its new memes and hidden histories. Above all we take China to mean more than just the People’s Republic Of, but to encompass the broader sinosphere and Chinese diaspora.
In short, it will be a mixed meal, with roughly three new articles a week – not too overwhelming, but full of surprises and delights both for the sinophile who already follows China, and for the sinocurious who is just opening Pandora’s box. So whether you are a China geek or newbie, dive deeper with us.
And who are we? The China Channel is edited part-time by a diverse team of China hands, old and new. We aspire to bring our varied interests and backgrounds to bear on the range of content we commission.
Here is the team in full, with names linking to our recent Q&As in the old reincarnation of this site at the LARB China Blog, and our Twitter handles:
Alec Ash – Managing Editor @alecash
Anne Henochowicz – Commissioning Editor @annehmdc
Nick Stember – Commissioning Editor @beckminster
Eileen Cheng-yin Chow – Academic Editor @chowleen
Jeffrey Wasserstrom – Academic Editor @jwassers
Mengfei Chen, Maura Cunningham, Jason Y Ng – Advising Editors @mengfeichen @mauracunningham @jasonyng
Olivia Humphrey – Assistant Editor @liv153
To pitch an article or if you have any questions, please write either directly to an editor (especially Alec, Anne or Nick), or to [email protected], and refer to our submissions guidelines for more detailed information.
To keep up with what we’re posting, as well as bookmarking the website on your computer or phone, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so as to not miss a beat. Or for the email junkies among you, the China Channel newsletter goes out to the world every Friday, with a digest of that week’s new content, plus the added bonus of links to other topical China articles and quotes. It’s simple to sign up, and easy to unsubscribe if you change your mind later, so sign up now for a buffet of reviews, essays and more.
And that’s about all, folks! We can’t wait to share what’s exciting us about China, so rather than talk any more about it we open the channel to the world. Thanks for watching. ∎
– The Editors